Tunisia’s Ennahda wins landmark vote against backdrop of sporadic protests

Supporters of Tunisia’s Islamist party Ennahda express their joy after hearing of their victory in the country’s first democratic elections. (Reuters)

Authorities say Tunisia’s Islamist Ennahda party has won the country’s first free elections, winning 90 of 217 seats in an assembly tasked with writing a new constitution for the fledgling democracy.

Ennahda’s nearest rival, the secularist Congress for the Republic, won 30 votes, commission members told a packed hall in the capital, ending a four-day wait since Sunday's poll for the painstaking count to be completed.

“The elections were as our people and youth wanted them to be − democratic, transparent, clean and pluralistic, in a break with the past,” said deputy commission head Souad Triki.

“At this historic moment, we can only salute the spirit of our innocent martyrs and the endurance of the youth of January 14,” she said.

Tunisians overthrew their longtime dictator, former President Zine El Abidine Ben Ali in January, a move that sparked similar movements in other Arab countries, including successful revolutions in Egypt and Libya.

Ennahda, which was long suppressed by Ben Ali, emerged as the best organized party in the election.

Meanwhile, more than 2,000 young people marched to the headquarters of Ennahda and pelted security forces with stones after hearing that another political grouping’s candidates’ lists were invalidated, said witnesses as well members of the interior ministry.

“A violent protest is under way, the security forces are trying to contain it,” ministry spokesman Hichem Meddeb told AFP.

An AFP correspondent reported that the group broke doors and windows of the Ennahda building and set alight tyres on the town’s main road.

A similar protest was under way in the town of Regueb, some 50 kilometers (30 miles) from Sidi Bouzid, said witnesses, where a gunshot was fired at the local Enahda offices.

Tunisian police used tear gas on Thursday to disperse hundreds of people protesting in Sidi Bouzid witnesses told Reuters.

Election officials earlier said they were cancelling seats won by the Popular List party, led by businessman Hachmi Hamdi, in six electoral districts because of campaign finance violations. The party won many votes in Sidi Bouzid.

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